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Samsung Galaxy Admire 4G (MetroPCS) review: Reliable, but held back by outdated Android OS

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At just $100, the Samsung Galaxy Admire 4G has a number of things going for it. It delivers a consistent 4G LTE experience, it has an attractive, compact build, and it's ideal for customers looking for a simple, no-contract smartphone.

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6.7

Samsung Galaxy Admire 4G (MetroPCS)

The Good

The prepaid <b>Samsung Galaxy Admire 4G</b> features a compact build, 4G LTE, and plenty of photo-editing options.

The Bad

Running Android 2.3 Gingerbread, the Admire 4G feels dated right out of the box. It also has a low-resolution screen.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung Galaxy Admire 4G is a dependable handset in its own right, but it just can't top the cheaper, faster, Android 4.0 LG Motion 4G.

Unfortunately, one huge oversight with the device is that it runs on the Android 2.3 operating system. In the smartphone world, this is ages old (after all, there have been two updates since then). And the fact that MetroPCS carries plenty of other devices with Android 4.0 for about the same price, if not cheaper, doesn't help the Admire 4G look any better.

Design
Interestingly, the Samsung Galaxy Admire 4G is reminiscent of the second-generation iPod. Coming only in white, it has a thick 0.47-inch profile, but it's extremely compact. It's easily maneuverable with one hand, and it has a dense construction that weighs 4.34 ounces. It measures 4.52 inches tall and 2.46 inches wide.

On the left is a thin volume rocker, and up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack. The right edge houses the sleep/power button, and on the bottom is the Micro-USB port for charging.

Samsung Galaxy Admire 4G
The Admire 4G's back plate has an attractive wood-grained texture that gives the device a more premium feel. Josh Miller/CNET

The 3.2-megapixel camera and LED flash are on the back, along with two small slits on the right for the audio speaker. Using an indent at the very top of the back plate, you can pry the cover off and gain access to the microSD card slot (which takes cards of up to 32GB) and battery. Though the device looks simple, I found the back plate to be attractive. It features a subtle wood-grain texture that adds a premium feel to an otherwise inexpensive-feeling product.

The 3.65-inch HVGA TFT touch screen is made out of Corning Gorilla Glass. Because this is a mid- to entry-level handset, it doesn't have the crispiest of screens: it has a 320x480-pixel resolution and can display up to 262,000 colors. Color gradients, such as those that appear on default wallpapers, look streaky and spotted. However, the touch screen is responsive, and doesn't require much hard pressing for it to register touches.

Above the display are an in-ear speaker, a VGA front-facing camera, and sensors. Below it are four hot keys that light up when in use: menu, home, back, and search.

The compact, prepaid Samsung Galaxy Admire 4G (pictures)

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Software and features
One of the phone's biggest faults is that despite coming out a little more than a month ago, it ships with the severely dated Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS. Later Android versions Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean have already been released, so if you're looking for an up-to-date unit, this isn't it.

Having said that, the Admire 4G does have a handful of Google apps you come to expect, such as Gmail, Latitude, Maps with Navigation, Places, access to the Google Play Books, Music, and Store, Search, Talk, and finally YouTube.

For basic task management apps it has a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, a native e-mail client and browser, a memo pad, music and video players, a to-do list, and voice services like a dialer, recorder, and search.

Samsung Galaxy Admire 4G
Unfortunately, the handset ships with the dated Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS. Josh Miller/CNET

MetroPCS included a few of its own apps, including a 4G mobile hot-spot app; M Studio, which stores media files like ringtones; Metro's own app store; Metro Block-it, which allows you to block calls and texts from unwanted persons; Metro411, which searches and locates for nearby businesses and restaurants; MetroPCS Easy Wi-Fi; the carrier's native browser; an entertainment and media app called MyExtras; a handset locator called Total Protection; and MyMetro, which lets you check your account balance and plan.

Other goodies are AllShare, which lets you play media across several devices; the always intelligent and dependable Yahoo Answers; Desk Cradle, which lets you launch a static home page that shows just a few apps, the weather, and the time; Yahoo Movies; a mobile media suite called Pocket Express; the Quickoffice suite; the streaming-music service Rhapsody; and another note-taking app called Write & Go.

Camera and video
The 3.2-megapixel camera surprisingly holds a lot of photo options, such as touch, auto, and macro focuses, an LED flash, an exposure meter, six shooting modes, a whopping 14 scene modes, a timer, six photo sizes (ranging from 640x480 to 2,048x1,536), five white balances, four color effects, three metering options (matrix, spot, and center-weighted), three image qualities, meters to adjust contrast, saturation, and sharpness, compositional guidelines, and geotagging.

The video camera has the same flash, exposure, timer, compositional lines, white balances, color effects, quality, and adjusting meter options. But you can also mute audio, and shoot in four sizes (from 176x144 to 720x480), and there are two shooting modes (normal and MMS).

The front-facing camera has fewer options. The only features that are retained are the exposure meter, image quality choices, and geotagging. In recording mode, you only get access to the exposure meter, video quality, and audio muting.

For such a low-megapixel camera, photo quality was respectable. In bright, outdoor scenes with even lighting, close-up images were generally sharp. Even though objects outside the center focus point were a bit blurrier, they weren't rendered unrecognizable. In addition colors, like whites, were accurate.

Understandably, photos taken in dimmer indoor lighting did not look as clear. Colors looked duller, images looked blurrier, as if painted on with a broad brushstroke, white lights were washed out, and dark hues were hard to distinguish. However, in general, images did not look over-pixelated and were still easy to make out.

Samsung Galaxy Admire 4G (outdoor)
In this outdoor shot, the white hues in the petals are true-to-form, and the orchids are sharp. Lynn La/CNET
Samsung Galaxy Admire 4G (indoor)
This shot, taken in dimmer indoor lighting, is noticeably blurrier and duller in color. Lynn La/CNET
Samsung Galaxy Admire 4G (SSI)
In our standard studio shot, the flash caused a tinge of blue to appear on the white background. Lynn La/CNET

In addition, the camera itself is slow. After you press the shutter, you have to wait a few seconds for the photo to actually be captured and saved, and autofocusing took a few moments to adjust.

On par with photo quality, the video quality was also adequate. Nearby audio picked up well, moving images remained in focus, and objects looked sharp. Colors were also true-to-life, though dark colors tended to blend together.

Performance
I tested the Admire 4G in CNET's San Francisco offices, and call quality was good. Audio didn't cut in and out, none of my calls dropped, and during times of absolute silence, I didn't hear any static. However, voices did come off a bit fuzzy during conversation. I could hear a subtle tinge of static every time someone spoke, and both in-ear and audio speaker volume could have been louder.

In that same vein, my friends told me I sounded muffled as well, and that it was obvious I was calling from a cell phone. They did say, though, that for the most part it was easy to hear me and that the static they heard was not distracting.

Samsung Galaxy Admire 4G call quality sample

Listen now:

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MetroPCS' 4G LTE network isn't the most robust, but data speeds were respectable. Loading both the CNET mobile and desktop sites, for example, took an average of 12 seconds. The New York Times' full site clocked in at 23 seconds, and its mobile site also took 11 seconds to load. Altogether, ESPN took a shorter time to load, with its mobile site taking 7 seconds on average, and its full site loading in 15 seconds. The 32.41MB game Temple Run 2 downloaded and installed in an average of 1 minute and 55 seconds, and Ookla showed me an average of 4.15Mbps down and 3.87Mbps up.

Samsung Galaxy Admire 4G Performance testing
Average 4G LTE download speed 4.15Mpbs
Average 4G LTE upload speed 3.87Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 32.41MB in 1 minute and 55 seconds
CNET mobile site load 12 seconds
CNET desktop site load 12 seconds
Restart time 39 seconds
Camera boot time 3.69 seconds

Powered by a 1GHz processor, the handset manages simple tasks smoothly enough, like swiping through the app drawer or the seven home screen pages. But there were times when it was noticeably sluggish. I mentioned before that the camera was slow, but there were also delays when it came to unlocking the screen, switching from landscape to portrait view, and calling up the keyboard. On average, the camera took about 3.69 seconds to launch and it took about 4.15 seconds to restart the phone entirely.

While playing Riptide GP, a graphics-intensive game, I didn't experience any stutter or unexpected app crashes. On the other hand, there was a low frame rate, images looked very jagged, and motion graphics weren't smooth.

The device has 1.38GB of internal memory and a 2,100mAh battery, which contributes to a reported talk time of just 3 hours, and 200 hours of standby time. Yet, during our battery drain test for talk time, it lasted 8.27 hours. Anecdotally, it has solid battery life. The reserves had barely drained after I held a 30-minute conversation, and with normal usage, it can last through a workday. According to FCC radiation standards, the phone has a digital SAR rating of 1.27W/kg.

Conclusion
The Galaxy Admire 4G is the best Android 2.3 handset in MetroPCS' $100 lineup. That is saying something, since the carrier has several of these devices. It's even better than some Android 4.0 phones too; for example, it beats the ZTE Avid 4G because the display is much more responsive and the processor makes it run more smoothly.

However, what will trump all these choices is the upcoming LG Motion 4G (and you can consider the LG Optimus M+ for its better camera, though it costs $30 more than the Admire 4G). Don't let the Motion 4G's summer release date put you off -- not only does it run Android 4.0, it also has a 5-megapixel camera and a dual-core processor, and it's $50 cheaper.

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6.7

Samsung Galaxy Admire 4G (MetroPCS)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7